a troubled soul
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Black Nick. By Zack Wilson.


            Black Nick was called ‘Black Nick’ because he was black. His dad was from Zambia and his mother from Mexborough and he’d grown up as the only black kid in Maltby. He’d brought his best friend Ferenc into the Lescar once. Ferenc was also from Maltby, but his dad was a Hungarian refugee who’d come to Yorkshire in the 50’s and worked as a miner. Ferenc was named after Ferenc Puskas, and his dad had taught him to hate the Russians because of 1956 and the Germans because of Berne 1954. I only met him once. He was very quiet.

            Nick could never fit in with the other black lads who drank in the Lescar. They were first and second generation Jamaicans, all patois and hard, studied cool. They seemed to make him feel white.

            He was a gentle, kind soul. Helped me get hold of weed in dry times because of his Rotherham contacts. Turned me on to some sounds I wouldn’t normally have checked out too. He was a big Michael Franti fan.

            You always sensed he was fragile, breakable. Most of us were, but our endless hangovers had also taught us a certain kind of rubbery resilience. Someone like Gordon Collingwood would always get up again, he was just too bitter not to. Nick was different. His wide brown eyes looked perpetually moist, like an oversensitive girl’s, and his broad Maltby accent often quavered with emotion. I don’t think drinking ‘wife beater’ helped. I’ve seen that stuff do odd things to people, worse than snakebite. I’ve always found it to have a nasty aftertaste too.

            The first indication we got that Nick was breaking was when Black John gave him a slap. Black John was called Black John not only because he too was black, but also to distinguish him from Scouse John, who was also, confusingly, mixed-race, and Cockney John, a West Ham fan from somewhere in Essex.

            Black John was one of the Jamaicans. A big one-eyed man who was often loud and drunk and lecherous. He drank in the Tap Room, where that kind of behaviour was expected and encouraged. In his more sober moments he brought his two teenaged daughters in for their tea, and then stood and played on the bandit and drank Stella whilst they ate. I’d occasionally helped with questions on the quiz machine, so he used to nod to me with relative friendliness.

            One afternoon, John had come bursting through the door between the Tap Room and the Lounge and stormed over to where Nick was sitting with a pleasant couple from Millhouses whom he knew. He hadn’t realised John was there until a meaty palm had connected with the back of his head and knocked him from his stool. He’d recovered himself onto his hands and knees and shook his head. John had pointed down at him and declaimed, “Don’t you ever talk to my fucking daughters again!” and then turned and battered his way back into the Tap Room.

            Nick had stood and run out the pub to his home just down Sharrowvale Road with the gait of a crying child escaping from a playground mishap.

            It had gone all quiet and awkward in the Lounge. Sylvia, the landlady, had explained to me that the previous day Nick had come in and walked over to where John’s daughters were sitting waiting for their father to return from the toilet and asked them why they were wearing his trousers. He’d asked them three times, and when they’d shaken their heads and laughed perplexedly, he’d told Sylvia that he couldn’t find his new trousers and left slowly and sadly.

            The last time we’d seen him he’d come in with a plastic carrier bag of stuff he’d bought in some hippy shop. I’d bought him a Stella and he’d carefully placed three items from his bag on the bar: a small, wax Buddha candle, a purple and blue Paisley pattern scarf and a bag of various coloured crystals. Gordon and I looked at each other and frowned and didn’t ask.

            I did ask if he was still living in his house down the road. He said that he wasn’t. He’d spent the last week in The Unit because he’d run through some bushes in Wincobank and sprayed paint at some skinheads. This was because the sun had been jumping in his head again, he explained. I nodded and smiled and he’d drunk half his Stella in one. “Do you think it would alright if I lit a joss stick?” he’d asked. I was talking him out of it gently when Sylvia had come over and in a mother’s voice reminded him he was barred. Gordon and I helped him put his things back in his bag and tenderly held his arms to guide him out the side door. As he’d walked away across the car park towards Mad Caspar’s launderette he’d turned once and waved and then disappeared beyond the corner.

            We never saw him again, and even though we said we were sad we weren’t. We were just relieved.


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